Museum Fans Get an Extra 'Special' Visit

Ricardo Thornton and wife, Donna, at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., with Special Olympics Virginia athlete Gavin Brodie. All three are standing in front of Ricardo's display with their hands up in celebration.

The Smithsonian’s program for children with disabilities got a special visitor this month, when Special Olympics athlete Ricardo Thornton stopped by the exhibit that features his own medal and jersey.

Young museum visitors were thrilled to meet Ricardo and pose with him by the display, which includes a bigger-than-life-size photo of Ricardo at a Special Olympics District of Columbia race.

A young girl wearing pink glasses and a blue dress with white and blue horizontal striped leggings tries out a Special Olympics medal at the museum’s hands-on section. She is standing in front of a Special Olympics sign banner that reads, Inclusion is worth more than a trophy.
A young visitor tries out a Special Olympics medal at the museum’s hands-on section.

The children were part of the Smithsonian’s “Morning at the Museum” in Washington, D.C. The program is designed for young people with cognitive or sensory processing disabilities. Participants get to tour the museum extra early Saturday morning – so they can enjoy a quiet, less crowded time before the museum opens to the public.

In September, “Morning at the Museum” spotlighted the “Special Olympics at 50” display at the National Museum of American History. For the occasion, museum curators brought out hands-on objects and rare items, including Special Olympics medals. They also set up a Special Olympics selfie spot for photos.

Ricardo, who grew up in an institution for people with intellectual disabilities, talked with the children about the importance of following their dreams. "When you're young, you need to believe in yourself," he said. “Use your ability—all your abilities. You may not know how many you have!“

The Special Olympics display includes archival items from founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and several Special Olympics athletes. Timed to Special Olympics’ year-long 50th anniversary celebration, the “Special Olympics at 50” exhibit will be open through June 2019.

Ricardo Thornton with Seth Rogers at the National Museum of American History's "Morning at the Museum" program. A young child is looking at Ricardo's display with people in the background.
Ricardo Thornton with Seth Rogers and family during the "Morning at the Museum" program.

50 Game Changers: Ricardo Thornton

Ricardo Thornton

ESPN and Special Olympics have teamed up on a year-long storytelling initiative telling the stories of game changers and game changing moments toward inclusion. Check back each week for a new story of inclusion.

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics, was a pioneer in the worldwide struggle for rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.
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